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Strength in Brokeness

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God’s Discipline Through Circumstances

Numbers 22:21-35

Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill

Turn to that account in the Old Testament of Balaam’s. It’s in Numbers 22:21 and it ties up with what Watchman Nee is talking about in his book, the release of the Spirit. Numbers 22:21, “So, Balaam rose in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. But God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the ass, and his two servants were with him. And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the ass, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall, and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck her again.

Then the angel of the Lord went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the ass with his staff. Then the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ And Balaam said to the ass, ‘Because you have made sport of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.’ And the ass said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Was I ever accustomed to do so to you?’ And he said, ‘No.’

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why have you struck your ass these three times? Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me; and the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have slain you and let her live.’ Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, ‘I have sinned, for I did not know that thou didst stand in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in thy sight, I will go back again.’ And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men; but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak.’ So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.”

I think it is true that after God has cleansed our hearts by the Holy Spirit there is in us all a recalcitrant personality that we insist on thinking is good. We’re all so ready to say our selfish will is wrong and sinful and I can see how that has to be crucified but now that has been dealt with, now I can storm on for Jesus. Then we begin to come up against difficulties and we find things aren’t turning out the way we thought they would. We heard about the life of victory over Satan, and we heard about always being filled with the Spirit and always being joyful and here we find we are often weeping, and often downcast, and often bewildered about what God is doing.

Nee, of course, makes the point this evening that often what we are doing is forging valiantly on against all kinds of things. We’re really like Balaam and the ass. We haven’t the wisdom of the ass to see – well, what God said in Verse 32, “Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me.” Often it is because God cannot afford to bless the personality strengths with which we’re serving him because there’s something of the old life still in them and

where there is still some of the old life there’s still something of pride and there’s still something of the glory of self and so God stands in the way against us.

I’m sure you’ve found yourself in that situation as described so vividly here, the angel went ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn either to the right or the left. How often you find yourself in that place. “Lord, I don’t know what to do. I’ve done everything. I’ve done everything that I could. I can’t see where to turn. If you don’t want me to go that way, and you don’t want me to go that way, where is there to go? There’s nowhere.” It’s almost as if there’s only the lake, there’s only the water and you can’t walk on water. Of course, that is what God wants to bring you into, walking on water. But, we still feel better when we’re on our own feet and in our own strength and we just cannot believe that we could be in Christ and yet still be coming into these ridiculous situations.

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall, and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall.” How often we have done what he did, strike her again and we’ve wiped out and we’ve tried by our own strength to forge a way through the impossible situation.

It does seem that what God is trying to do is to break the strength, the natural strength that would bring glory only to ourselves and that is what God is after. Yet, we somehow read that story and we think how stupid Balaam was, couldn’t he see what was happening? But we are often in the same place ourselves. It’s not a cause for despair, it’s not a cause for giving up, it’s a cause for realizing that God has something more to break in us and that’s why he’s bringing us into these things. There is always a way through. Christ is finally triumphant; it’s simply that you have to shave a way a bit more so that only Christ is left.

Only Christ himself can pass through walls and if there’s anything of us left, we can’t go through the walls and it has to be people who can go through walls who will fight for God’s cause in these days. So the Father is trying to shave, and shave, and shave, you know, more, and more, and more and we think, of course, there’s going to be nothing less and there will be nothing left but Jesus.

That’s what God is doing. Nee puts it like this, “The person broken not just taught.” “The person broken not just taught. No one is equipped to work simply because he has learned some teachings. The basic question is still what kind of man is he? Can one whose inner workings are wrong but whose teaching is right supply the need of the church?”

I don’t know if you’ve thought through that one but I think many would say, “Oh yes, yes, I think good teaching is good. You know, God will bless it.” Well of course Nee would say, “Teaching does nothing. It does nothing. In fact, it brings greater condemnation because it just brings light. But if there’s not life through death then the light just brings condemnation.” That’s why he asks, “Can one whose inner workings are wrong but whose teaching is right supply the need of the church? The basic lesson we must learn is to be transformed into a vessel fit for the master’s use. This can only be done by the breaking of the outward man.”

So, we have a tendency to read about Benjamin Carvosso [1789-1854, Wesleyan preacher in Australia and New Zealand] stepped into the stagecoach, with seven or eight people inside, went down the road two miles, got out and they were all converted. There’s a strong tendency for us to want that kind of miracle because it seems to us not to be connected with us at all, and it isn’t. Except, we

think of it in a different way, we think of it as, “Boy, that’s easy, it’s just God striking down into the hearts of those people.” Or, we read of Smith Wigglesworth [1859-1947, British evangelist and faith healer] and we read of the miracles that he did. Then we think, “That’s – that’s what I would like. That’s the way I would like.” But in our minds we would like it because it’s so other worldly; it’s so vividly and obviously and patently of God and we think there’s no trouble.

But each of those men have been broken that’s why God was able to work through them like that. Each of them have been broken of their own strengths and so we can say the same words in the name of Jesus, “Be thou made whole” but it’s like a person who has been taught the right words but God has never been able to work his work in them and through them. So there’s such a vast difference between a man or a woman who have been broken of any soulish powers that they ever thought they have and who feel they have nothing to offer at all. It’s very different between that and the person who will say that. They’ll say, “Oh, I have nothing. Oh, believe me, what you’re describing, that’s just me. I have nothing left.” And yet they’re still coming up against problems and difficulties.

Of course, the fact that you’re coming up against problems and difficulties rather than working with them and seeing them as God’s gift to you is an indication that the soulish powers are still there and is still fighting. In a sense, while you’re still fighting you still have some trust in your own soulish strengths and it’s only when you’ve come to the end of that, that you’re free. That’s why you can see men and women who are or have passed through many years of service to Jesus and they have the marks of it in their faces, and their bodies, and the wrinkles, and the white hair, and the suffering, and the pain. Yet it’s as if there’s clearness about them, clarity. It’s as if there’s clean air right through them and if you ever ask them, “Has it been hard?” They would say, “No, it’s been glory all the way.” You know they have stopped fighting; they’ve stopped fighting it.

That’s part of what he means. “God is at work in our lives unceasingly. Many years of suffering, trials, hindrances, this is the hand of God — daily seeking to carry on his work of breaking us. Do you not see what God is doing in this endless round of difficulties? If not, you should ask him, ‘Oh God, open my eyes that I may see thy hand.’ How often the eyes of an ass are sharper than those of a self-styled prophet.” Of course we are, to some extent, deceived in our day because we’re all taught the successful servant of God is one whose success is obvious to everybody. And we’re very naïve just as we have tended to respect our youthfulness. I’d have to say here that I think of myself as that rather than the other.

I think we have tended to respect our own youthfulness and not to respect the tried age and so there’s a tendency for us today to have a picture of a servant of God — be they man or woman — who is publically successful, preferably popular, and obviously victorious and meeting no difficulties or trials. Of course, the picture here is absolutely the opposite and the picture of our Lord Jesus is so opposite because it speaks all the time of difficulties and trials that chip away at anything of the self-life that is left. So we should be far from discouraged when we have things that keep tripping us up or barking our shins. We should see, “No, Lord, I want more. I want whatever you see is needed to reveal your son in me. Whatever it takes, I receive it.”

So it is a great help in our trials and difficulties. Now it’s wrong, I agree with everybody here, it’s wrong if you just are complacent about it by saying, “Yet again I blew it.” It’s as if that’s the normal Christian life. Certainly that’s an indication that you’re not on the Calvary Road at all. But it seems to me when you are recognizing that God is dealing with you and is breaking these powers even though you don’t know exactly which one he’s dealing with at that time, if you have that attitude that is an attitude of faith and it’s an attitude that God can deal with.

So far from thinking that we’ve failed and we’re missing it with God when these things come. No, we should be grateful for God for their coming. Though the ass had already seen the angel of the Lord, its master had not. The ass recognized the forbidding hand of God but the self-styled prophet did not. We should be aware that brokenness is God’s way in our lives. How sad that some still imagine that if they could only absorb more teaching, accumulate more preaching material, and assimilate more Bible exposition, they would be profitable to God. This is absolutely wrong, God’s hand is upon you to break you not according to your will but his. Not according to your thoughts, but his. Not according to your decision, but his.

So it’s always wrong to say, “But you couldn’t mean this Lord, you couldn’t mean this.” God will always answer, “That’s exactly what I do mean that’s why this has happened to you. That’s exactly what I do mean.” Because, God is the one to judge what you need and what brokenness you need to enter into. “Our difficulty is that as God withstands us, we blame others. We react like that prophet who was blind to God’s hand, blamed the ass for refusing to budge.”

It’s probably true that every time, every time we ever say quietly to ourselves, “Well, it’s because of this special circumstance that I’m facing this difficulty.” Or, “It’s because of this person who is out to oppose God’s will in my life, that’s why it is.” Now, what the Father would say is, “That may be all true or may not be true at all. That person may be opposing my will in your life, or that may be a special circumstance but who sent the circumstance? Who allowed the circumstance to come about? Who allowed that person to oppose my will in connection with your life? I did. I have sent that to you. I love you so I chasten you. There are no secondary causes with me, everything is a primary cause. Rise up. Stop torturing yourself by making yourself think that it’s this person, or it’s that circumstance, or it’s Satan. Stop torturing yourself like that, look up into my face to see that it’s me, your loving Father, who is doing this.” Then there rises up from us a faith that enables God to achieve what he’s after.

So, in that sense, it takes you back to that 2 Corinthians which you need to look at just so we can get the words right, 2 Corinthians 4:8, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair.” So, we can be perplexed, we can be a bit bewildered momentarily when this thing happens but we’re not given to despair. There can be almost like the ass thinking, I don’t quite know what’s happening here, but not to despair. So there is at times perplexity, undoubtedly, in regard to death, everybody’s death, and relative’s death, there is perplexity. Undoubtedly in regard to some of the things even we ourselves have experienced that is small compared with what the saints of God have experienced. But undoubtedly there are moments when you’re perplexed but not given to despair.

Perplexity has to be there because it’s an indication that there’s a whole world here that you’ve looked at the whole way around and so there has to be perplexity. God often brings that but it’s not perplexity that leads to despair. It’s a perplexity that says, “Oh, I see. Oh, there’s something here, Lord. Alright, I know you are in charge here. I know you’ve sent this. I know you know how it’s affecting me and Father, I know that there’s a purpose in this. Thank you that you’re not finished with me yet.” It’s that attitude. Whereas when it’s soulish self-standing up it says, “I shouldn’t be suffering this, I shouldn’t be facing this. I should be victorious. I ought to be victorious. I ought to be bounding over this.” “I”, “I”, “I.” It’s the strength of “I”.

It’s what, you remember, Roy Hession says, “The “C” is a bent “I”.” And when the “I” at last bends before God then it becomes “C” – Christ.” And that’s what God is doing with us and so there’s

always a moment when you’re bewildered. But I would encourage you, I would encourage each one of us, because all of us are experiencing these things in different ways and it’s very easy to go the naïve superficial way, “Oh well, zippity-do-dah,” or sing a little song, or put my trust in Jesus, and have a light attitude to it. Then it’s easy. It’s possible to go the other way and say, “I mustn’t be sanctified, my heart mustn’t be clean.” What God wants us to do is to see he’s trying to get us to listen.

I have to tell the joke though, I’m sure this isn’t a moment when you’re supposed to tell a joke, but the man you remember with the donkey, and if I can remember the story properly. But, this old man with a donkey and the donkey was determined to go down this wrong road and the friend that was with this man that owned the donkey was of course, waiting for him to get him around to go the other road first. And he told him, you know, “Alright, will you get him around and I’ll keep the cart over here?” And the owner of the donkey took a 2×4 board and right back like this just whacked the donkey right between the eyes and the donkey was kind of staggering back. The other friend said, “Why did you do that?” And he said, “First I had to get his attention.” Sometimes we are like that. We think, “Oh, of course God can get my attention,” but sometimes we are so blind and we are so determined in our own way that the only way he can get our attention is by allowing some of these breaking things to come upon us. It’s to get us to stop and to attend to him.

So the glorious thing is, if your heart is that of Jesus, your heart will respond to this. It will go with it, and work with it, and rise with it and that is what Nee is saying. That’s why, I don’t know if you’ve seen that, but that’s why the dear old saints would say, “It has been blessing all the way,” because there the dearest blessing was what the world would call hardships. Those are the dearest gifts God gave to them, those worked the deepest things in them because those brought about the breaking of the outward man that enabled Christ to begin to flow forth. They knew that until death was at work in them there was no life at work in others.

Hudson Taylor said, “All that comes to us is ordered by God.” All that comes to us is ordered by God. Everything, everything. “I’m a fabulous designer, I need no one.” Ordered by God. The car as it is breaking down continually — ordered by God. I was speaking to Rick about some things that happened in both his life and of course, in our lives together these past years, ordered by God. No mistakes, God makes no mistakes. All our way has been lovingly ordered by him and each circumstance has been necessary in the light of what we are.

To a Christian nothing is accidental. It is so good with all those appointments that are broken. Of course, you all know that little experience, the reaction that can prolong the misery of the day. The reaction, “Why didn’t you call me? Why did you let me drive all this distance?” That was ordered by God, no accident, ordered by God. You all know what a transformation when you enjoy the drive, and you praise him, and you thank him.

I was talking with Sandra and it makes such a difference, waking up suddenly at 3:30 in the morning or 3:00, and then if you grind against it, it’s agony. But if you go with it, “Lord, you must want to say something to me I’ll rest in you now. I don’t need to sleep, resting in your arms is enough.” Then of course, it transforms the situation. So, nothing is accidental to a Christian.

“We should ask God to open our eyes that we may see that he is striking us in all things and in all areas of our life.” “We should ask God to open our eyes so that we may see that he is striking us in all things and in all areas of our life. One day when by his grace upon us we are able to accept the ordering of God in our environment, our spirit will be released and ready to function.” One day

when by his grace upon us we are able to accept the ordering of God in our environment, our spirit will be released and ready to function. It ties up with what Samuel Johnson, the old literary giant in the 18th Century, “We always think if we could change our circumstances all would be well.” And of course, it’s the same truth, “One day when by his grace upon us we are able to accept the ordering of God in our environment, our spirit will be released and ready to function.”

Always when we’re waiting for the circumstances to change we’re not ready for God to use us. Always when we’re bucking against our environment, or we’re dissatisfied with it, we’re not ready to be used by God. But one day when by his grace upon us we are able to accept the ordering of God in our environment, our spirit will be released and ready to function.

It’s very interesting isn’t it to think God reconciled the world unto himself in Christ and that every time Christ came into a situation he was reconciled to that situation. He wasn’t straining against it. He wasn’t discontented with it even though all those situations were surely anything but God’s will but he was reconciled with the situation. He was at peace. He did what God wanted him to do but he himself was not strained at it. And so it is with us, the real victory over the cancer, or the victory over the disease, or the victory over the sales, or the victory over the situation, or the victory over rush hour, or the victory over radio in the East Coast, that is won inside a heart where things come into reconciliation before the outward thing is manifested.

Of course, I think one of the most wonderful parts of it is, is that Jesus Christ has something to do in each life that is around this room that he will not do exactly the same in the other lives around this room. So he is dealing with each one of us absolutely individually and personally and he alone knows what he needs to do through you. You will not go through the same things as the others. You will not. You will not go through the same things as anybody else here in this room or anybody else in this world.

Moreover, we cannot even guarantee that all of us in this room will see what Christ did through you. He may do it through you in the last two seconds of your life. In the last two seconds of your life Jesus may intercede in prayer to his father for a man or a woman that will be used by God to convert thousands of people. In the last minute of your life Jesus may intercede in a prayer that will convert a nation.

God alone knows what he’s going to do through you and he therefore has tailored the experiences in your life to break you in the way that is needed for Christ to come forth. So it is a glorious thing. That’s partly why I think when we talk about the fellowship of Christ sufferings, you feel you’re on holy ground. We’re dwarfs; we’re nobodies talking about the holy things of the saints, and the most high God. We know nothing. But, God will break us so that we can experience the little that he wants to do through us and that finally is the greatest thing of all. It will be great to be able to be – well, we certainly won’t be as big as a nail but we might be a little piece of a nail on a little finger of Jesus. That will be fullness of life and that’s what God is doing.

Let us pray.